The Saving Throw
Guides for Gamemasters Jan. 19, 2006
Some advice from one gamemaster to another.

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Diceless Adventures: Planning
contributed by Nwash

This guide is part of a series, continued from Diceless Adventures: Combat.

   After having looked at character creation and combat in diceless adventures, it is now time to step back and take a more general look at these adventures. With diceless adventures, good planning is often the difference between a good adventure and a poor adventure; these adventures are not as easy to improvise or ad lib. It's easy to throw player characters into combat to eat up time, but if one runs diceless combat in the optimum way, it flows much faster. The gamemaster has less time for improvisation, so preparation beforehand is more essential.

The following advice is suitable for standard dice-rolling adventures as well, as is most of the advice in this series; however, this advice is more critical for diceless adventures.

Level of Planning
   Take as much time as you can to plan the adventure. Do as much as you can do; develop outlines, notes, character profiles, descriptions, images, maps, etc. While it possible to plan too much, the more work you do on an adventure, the better the adventure is likely to be. This is especially true if you follow the next suggestion.

Keep It Flexible
   A plan that depends on the player characters doing specific things in a specific order is usually too strict. Linear plots are not necessarily unenjoyable by default, but this type of gaming does confer and generally work better with a greater degree of freedom. Using a very linear plan usually requires railroading the player characters into specific course of action, and one can generally only get away with this when the story is very compelling and interesting. It will usually be better to leave options open.

The best plans leave the player characters with several options, even the occasional critical, important options that may change the course of the entire story. Instead of trying to railroad the characters down specific paths, good plans leave the gamemaster prepared for the conceivable, or at least likely paths the characters may take. Instead of limiting freedom, good plans preserve much or all of the freedom the player characters would have in a fully improvised campaign, and will generally be of better quality overall.

Challenges other than Combat
   The challenges of diceless campaigns should focus more on those abilities the players and their characters can both do. These challenges can be intellectual, involving the solving of riddles, puzzles, or mysteries. They can also be challenges of role-playing ability, such as bargaining, deception, persuasion, or negotiation. In fact, they could even be poltical or diplomatic in nature. These two broad categories cover a broad range of challenges one can use in an adventure other than physical or technical actions that players cannot actually do for their characters.

Letting the player characters plan their own method of solving a particular difficulty is another challenge that the gamemaster can give them. Perhaps they have to determine how to infiltrate a secure facility or acquire a specific item. Even acquiring the information they need to accomplish this can be a challenge in itself, especially if you leave it to the players to figure out how to get this information.

Constucting the Story
   It is important to remember that most roleplaying flows faster than combat, so adventures which have minimal combat need to be more thoroughly developed. This is a great opportunity to add extra content that wouldn't fit well in a combat-heavy adventure. I highly recommend creating subplots in your adventures to add depth. In particular, subplots related to the player characters in the campaign are a very good idea; these subplots encourage the players to better develop their characters through roleplaying. In fact, the occasional adventure based entirely on one player character will work very well, as long as you share the fun among the players.

I also recommend trying to add ambience to your adventure in any way you can. Player characters often have lives beyond their adventures; whenever possible, give them a chance to roleplay their characters under more normal circumstances. Let them interact with others in the realm and with each other. Use vivid descriptions wherever you can. Plan more than the main plotline; give them places to explore and people to meet that aren't directly related to the main plot. All of these things help to increase the ambience of the adventure and encourage the players to become more involved with their characters. It promotes better roleplaying by making roleplaying more fun. It also helps you, as any places or people that become important to the players can be later drawn into the main plotline; one can pretty much depend on having guaranteed interest in the story this way. Indeed, I've even run one adventure that was little more than ambience by itself; only small parts of it were related to the larger story.

Rewarding the Players
   Don't forget this! Some tabletop RPGs, particularly Dungeons and Dragons, focus most of the rewards upon defeating enemies. If you are using a system that does the same thing, you need to make sure the players are rewarded for success one way or another. If the characters were fully created, the game's version of experience points can be awarded for accomplishing certain goals. Otherwise, rewards will have to come in other forms. It can be in material form, such as money, equipment, or items, but gamemasters are not limited to these rewards. Rewards can also come in terms of valuable friendships or relationships or greater respect among NPCs, to give a couple of examples.

Rewards should also be given for more than just completing goals, however. Exceptional creativity or roleplaying should always be rewarded as well, as these are definite assets in diceless adventures. Engaging in activities not directly related to the main story should also be rewarded, as these lead to deeper character development. Doing this encourages these things, which in turn improves your players' abilities to deal with intellectual and roleplaying challenges. It also helps to prepare them for new things, allowing you to experiment more with your adventures yourself. In the long run, you reward yourself by rewarding the players for solid roleplaying.

   Quite simply, a good, flexible plan that includes intellectual and roleplaying challenges, subplots and/or ambience to add depth, and which rewards players for achieving goals, being creative, and roleplaying well will usually lead to excellent adventures and enjoyable diceless gaming. A good plan can make running the adventure itself easy. It is to your advantage to take as much time as you can to plan adventures, and the guidelines above will help prevent you from creating too inflexible of a plan. All that will be left after that is actually running the adventure.

The next guide in this series, Diceless Adventures: Gamemastering, is now available.

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